Notes on the Longnose Gar

I have an uneasy relationship with gar that stems from a long ago experience that I could probably forget if not for a tiny scar on the back of my left hand. I was a kid motoring along for the ride with my father in a backwater slough off the Mississippi River, my hand foolishly hanging over the gunwale, when something stung me. There was a spot of blood, which I assumed was from a snakebite and triggered near hysteria. I howled loudly enough for my dad to throttle the outboard and tend to me. He said the wound was from a gar bite.

The fish didn’t bite me, of course. I later learned that gar spend a good deal of their time motionless near the surface. The sound and/or approach of the boat almost certainly caused the fish to flounce and its teeth collided with my hand.

Still, I remain cautious around gar, which I’m sure have some distant relation to dinosaurs in bloodline and temperament.

Last week, while fishing Elkhorn Creek, I had another encounter with one of these ancient fish. No blood was spilled this time but I was a bit startled to glance down and see a 3-foot long fish armed with a mouth filled with sharp teeth brush my leg; as oblivious to me as it would have been a post.

The Elkhorn Creek I’m talking about flows cool and clear through north-central Kentucky, and is one of the state’s best smallmouth bass streams. I was wading above a riffle fishing a waist deep pool that curled against a cut bank before funneling into a long, shallow run. It was late afternoon with no other fishermen in sight. The hole had already given up three bass when the gar swam into view, passed lazily within reach, then glided toward the shadows along the bank. 

In his classic Fishing Encyclopedia, A. J. McClane says that the long nose gar should be “utilized as a sport fish to a much greater extent.” McClane could have undoubtedly caught the fish and turned it into a gourmet meal. I am not so skilled but did cast a fly in its direction. Not because of McClane’s advice but because I can’t resist casting to fish I can see. I had little hope of hooking and no hope of landing this beast (its teeth would have sliced the tippet like a razor) but a take would have been satisfying.

My offering was ignored. Just as well. My first aid kit was in my other tackle  pack.